"Start the new decade with a splash." That was the first headline in the New Zealand Herald on January 1, 2020. The same cover featured Steve Braunias' wish list for 2020, which included "anything resembling peaceful easy feelings in 2020".
The front pages of the Herald in 2020 started out tame enough: the Australian bushfires, Harry and Meghan's departure as senior members of the royal family (Megxit), Elton John cutting his Auckland concert short due to illness, and complaints about the number of cones in Auckland's CBD. The cones stuck around, but the tame headlines didn't.
The pandemic was first hinted at on the cover of the Herald on January 24, with a story about two international students who were due to start school in New Zealand and were stuck in Wuhan due to a "deadly virus causing global alarm".
The word "Covid" premiered on the front page of the Herald on February 29 (following confirmation on February 28 that the first New Zealand case was confirmed). From there, the pandemic tightened its grip on the world and since then, the word appeared on the cover some 376 times this year.
March was a challenging month for so many of us, and as the events of the year so quickly blurred together, it is easy to forget the rapid succession of events that took place in that month alone.
The national remembrance for the first anniversary of the Christchurch mosque attacks was cancelled over concerns of the virus. Pasifika was also cancelled. Then, one after the other, we saw mandatory self-isolation introduced for returning travellers, restrictions on travel to the Pacific Islands, a ban on cruise ships and public gatherings, the closure of the border to all but New Zealand citizens and residents, the Covid alert level system introduced, and then finally, the nationwide lockdown and the introduction of the 1pm Jacinda Ardern and Ashley Bloomfield show.
Over this time, the front pages of the Herald featured photos of the empty streets of central Auckland, Covid testing centres and people taking to the beaches and parks for fresh air during the lockdown.
Unsurprisingly, Ardern tops the list with the most appearances on the front page of the Herald, featuring some 66 times throughout 2020. Bloomfield made the cover nine times during the year – his first appearance was on March 16.
The Herald used the alert level changes to get creative with puns, with some of the best including:
• April 21: One more week (but it won't be level free)
• April 28: Threedom
• May 5: Zeroing in on level 2
• May 8: Two good!
• May 11: Two be or not two be
• June 4: One-derful
• June 8: Only 1 option
• June 9: What a one-derful world
The National Party received a large share of cover stories throughout the year as it was besieged by leaks, turmoil and the leadership change from Simon Bridges (eight cover appearances) to Todd Muller (13 appearances), then to Judith Collins (29 appearances).
Other major events that made the cover of the Herald included the tragic death of policeman Matthew Hunt in June; the sentencing of the Christchurch terrorist in August; Auckland's damaged Harbour Bridge in September; the run-up to the delayed New Zealand election that felt like it would never come; the US election in November (Donald Trump had 15 cover appearances in the Herald, Joe Biden had 10).
It is hard to believe that NBA legend Kobe Bryant's untimely death also happened this year, all the way back in January.
While sport had a muted year, cricket, rugby, rugby league and the America's Cup all featured on the front pages of the Herald. All Black Beauden Barrett topped the count with 26 appearances – eclipsing captain Sam Cane who had 15.
Kiwi music star Benee made the cover eight times.
Several iconic cartoons by Herald editorial cartoonist Rod Emmerson were published on the front pages this year, including: "The ripple effect" (for the anniversary of the Christchurch mosque shootings), "A whānau of 5 million" (at the start of New Zealand's Covid-19 lockdown), and "A time for justice" (for the sentencing of the Christchurch terrorist). Emmerson's superb cartoons also featured on the covers during the election, and for Finance Minister Grant Robertson's announcement of the Government's economic support package for Covid-19 and its "Rebuilding Together" 2020 Budget.
In a year with little good news to celebrate, opportunities for positive front pages of the Herald this year were limited. But for me, it was those stories that showed the resilience of Kiwis in the face of adversity that really stood out:
• Inspirational Whakaari/White Island survivor Kelsey Waghorn was on the cover on January 9 – one month after the volcano erupted – with the headline: "She's not giving up." Five months later she was on the cover again, this time with: "Thank you for saving my life," directed at the strangers that came forward to donate the blood she needed in
the aftermath of the eruption.
• The sense of community felt during the first lockdown in March saw the "team of five
million" featured several times on the cover – though this feeling waned by the second
Auckland lockdown on August 26, when the Herald led with a headline: "Team of 5m: 'We're over it.'"
• On April 4, the cover was dedicated to the courage shown by workers performing essential services on the frontline during the lockdown. Also on the cover during the lockdown was the Bear Hunt movement, as communities around the country used teddy bears to put smiles on the faces of children during a time of such incredible uncertainty.
• As New Zealand emerged from lockdown and sprung back into a level of normality, the
covers showcased business people, shops, cafes and restaurants as they were able to return to work, throw open their doors and be back in action.
2021 will not be the year we had anticipated a year ago. Many of the major events we were looking forward to: Apec, the men's Softball World Cup, the Women's Cricket World Cup, Auckland's Laneway Festival, Womad and the kapa haka Te Matatini festival have been cancelled, postponed, or will instead be held online. But as we look around the world and see that, unlike most other countries, we have been able to celebrate Christmas and the end of 2020 tonight at New Year's Eve parties, it is hard not to appreciate how lucky we are to be in Aotearoa.
I won't be so bold as to wish for "anything resembling peaceful easy feelings" for the coming year, but perhaps a wish for a little less time spent inside the house and a few more upbeat news stories will suffice. Flipping the calendar over may not be a panacea that puts an end to the raging pandemic, but it is not an election year – so at least that's a start! Here's to 2021!
By the numbers – the number of times on the cover:
• Jacinda Ardern: 62 (+4 cartoons) – not including election advertising
• Judith Collins: 27 (+2 cartoons)
• Beauden Barrett: 26
• Sam Cane: 15
• Donald Trump: 15
• Todd Muller: 11 (+2 cartoons)
• Joe Biden: 10
• Ashley Bloomfield: 9
• Benee: 8
• Meghan Markle: 8
• Winston Peters: 8 (+3 cartoons)
• Prince Harry: 7
• Simon Bridges: 6 (+2 cartoons)
• Greg Foran: 4
• Queen Elizabeth II: 3